We have decided to use the question and answer format since it offers the easiest way to deliver a lot of information in manageable blocks. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns not addressed here.
Q. I have heard that on certain Field Courses, BOSS conducts a lesson on large game processing. Is this true?
A. Yes, this is true. On longer Field Courses, the curriculum includes large game processing within the context of traditional living and survival skills.
Q. Why is this important for survival?
A. Modern Western civilization often takes for granted that food is readily available. All one has to do is go to the local grocery store and purchase from a wide selection of foods grown all over the world. In a traditional wilderness environment, one did not have this luxury — one had to eat only what one found locally, whether it was grown or hunted.
While large quantities of fruits, vegetables, and nuts can provide a nutritious diet today, a purely vegan or vegetarian diet was not part of the typical indigenous lifestyle. Because the human body is under much more physical stress in the wilderness and at BOSS, a much greater need exists for proteins and, even more critically, for fats. The quantities available from vegetable sources are not significant enough to sustain an active community, which is why culture after culture around the world turned to buffalo, elk, deer, sheep, cattle, whales, seals, fish, and dozens of other animals as a food source. It was not a question of ethics but simply a matter of survival.
At BOSS, we teach large game processing using an animal which we purchase from a local livestock farm in Utah and bring into the field to the students. This is typically a sheep, although we do occasionally use a goat or a cow. We have taught this same lesson on our courses since 1968 and we continue to do so because it supports a core philosophy of our school — learning how traditional cultures responsibly processed an animal in order to live.
Q. Why not use photos or text books? Why not have someone talk about how it's done without actually killing an animal?
A. In just two generations, our society has forgotten so much about where things come from and how they are processed. People no longer know for themselves where the meat in the freezer section comes from, where it was grown, how it was processed.
BOSS exists to teach people the ancient skills of traditional cultures and to allow you to reconnect with the very source of things. This can not be done through a book, by reading how someone else did it somewhere else. True learning comes from personal experience and with something as significant as providing food for yourself, the best method of education is first-hand experience. If we felt a slideshow or a lecture would effectively communicate this experience, we would switch to it, but in this case the lesson is best learned on many levels through direct, first-hand experience. And because of the context within which the animal is respectfully treated and utilized, we are comfortable with this decision to take an animal's life so that each student's health and education benefit. Ultimately, however, the decision is up to you.
Q. Why not use a wild animal? Wouldn't a deer or an elk be more appropriate? One doesn't find sheep wandering out in the wilderness...
A. Actually, sheep do exist in the wild and Big Horn sheep are well-hunted throughout Central and North America. But wild animals require permits to be hunted and even then it's only during a fixed hunting season. Since BOSS needs its lessons to be within a fixed set of course dates, we use an animal which is raised locally (and organically) on a livestock farm.
We have, in the past, used animals that were killed by cars on the highway — for example, a deer hit by a truck can be brought in to the students for this same lesson on that day. However, this is impossible to anticipate and often the meat and organs of the animal are ruined by the impact of the vehicle, making the full lesson almost impossible to conduct. And, if the death does not occur at the exact time, the meat will spoil by the time it's needed. Therefore, we prefer to purchase a sheep locally.
Q. What kind of conditions are the animals raised in?
A. The animals are raised on an organic livestock farm which raises sheep and cattle on 50-acres of pasture in Southern Utah. The animals are well-tended and well-fed. They spend their days in the pasture and their nights in a barn. This particular farm has won several competitions for the quality of their livestock and we are proud to support their operation.
When it comes time to transport the animals, we personally pick the animal up and transport it to the field within a few hours of this phase of the course. It is given plenty of food, water, and shade up to the time it is presented to the students. At no time is the animal starved or mistreated.
Q. Then what happens?
A. The animal is typically tied to the trunk of a tree so that it can have shade and enjoy the night under someone's supervision. If it were not tied to the tree, it would run off and be lost. If it were not supervised by a staff member, it could be the victim of a mountain lion or bear. So in both cases, the tethering of the animal is designed to protect it.
Q. And then?
A. The killing of an animal can be an overwhelming experience for people who have never lived on a farm. Therefore, the instructors begin by explaining much of what we've said here to the students: how, traditionally, vegetarianism was not a reality and that ultimately the human body needs proteins and fats to survive. (At this point in the course, the students are feeling this reality for themselves, as their bodies have been practically fat- and protein-deprived for several days or weeks before the animal arrives.)
The animal is then brought into the group and the students are given time to do whatever process they feel is appropriate to say "good bye" or "thank you." Some talk to it, some silently pat its head, some offer personal prayers or thanks — it's up to each person to do whatever he or she feels is appropriate.If the group feels they want to release the animal and allow it to live, they can. Most groups decide colectively to continue the lesson, but if you personally want to completely disappear and come back later, that's fine. No one is forced to participate in the upcoming act, although many vegetarians and vegans specifically choose to be involved in this phase since it gives them a chance to be completely connected to the animal's death.
Once the students are ready and the animal has been properly respected, several students hold the animal against the ground while one student cuts its throat quickly with a very sharp knife. Death is instantaneous.
Q. You kill the sheep by cutting its throat?
A. Yes. Extensive studies by the meat-processing industry have shown that the quickest and cleanest method of death is a fast cut across the carotid arteries and jugular veins. Brain death results in just 17 seconds, which is far faster than the death that comes from a gunshot or being killed by a wild animal. There is a reason why this same technique has been used all over the world by farmers, hunters, religious groups, and nomadic tribespeople who want to minimize any suffering the animal might experience.
Q. Is this humane?
A. Absolutely, this technique is legally approved as a "Humane Slaughter" under US Code title 7, chaper 48, section 1902 regarding livestock management:
"No method of slaughtering or handling in connection with slaughtering shall be deemed to comply with the public policy of the United States unless it is humane. Either of the following two methods of slaughtering and handling are hereby found to be humane:
Method 2 - by slaughtering whereby the animal suffers loss of consciousness by anemia of the brain caused by the simultaneous and instantaneous severance of the carotid arteries with a sharp instrument and handling in connection with such slaughtering."
This Code is endorsed by many animal rights groups and activist organizations, including PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
Q. I've heard it can take a lot longer for the animal to stop moving than 17 seconds....
A. There is a difference between brain death (the end of life and sense of feeling) and the latent response of the central nervous system. If you cut a chicken's head off, the body still runs around. The tail of a lizard flops around after it's severed from the body, too. These are the result of nerves firing as the body or body part itself begins to die, but it is not related to the suffering of the animal. The brain of the sheep dies just seconds after the incision is made, while its body may or may not jerk for a few minutes after it is dead. But this is not to be interpreted as suffering, just the release of the nervous system's energy.
Q. What if the incision is made poorly, or the knife isn't sharp enough?
A. The knife is always sharp, sharpened by the instructor a few seconds before the cutting. We would never kill an animal with a dull knife.
The incision almost always goes smoothly – the process is fairly straightforward and the student is given very clear instructions by the supervising instructor with him or her. But it is possible that the sheep could move its head at the last second so the cut doesn't completely sever both arteries at once. Therefore, the instructor has a second super-sharp knife ready and he or she will always step in and complete the cut within a few seconds of the student. Even if the student does a perfect job, the instructor performs a second cut just to make sure there is no additional suffering by the animal.
Q. What do you do with the sheep once it's dead?
A. The lesson of taking an animal's life is a powerful one, but it is only the beginning of the animal processing skills that BOSS teaches. The students still have to learn how to actually utilize the animal's body for sustenance. For the next few days, the group's only food will be this animal and the items that are cooked with it.
Much of this phase is best covered by the staff in the field, but you should know that EVERY part of the animal that can be consumed or utilized by the group is. To do any less would show the animal disrespect.
The meat is boiled, steamed, grilled, and/or dried — each method showing the students a different preparation technique. Traditional cooking and cleaning skills from all over the world are taught, whether it's Native American, Samoan, African, or English. Even the animal's hide, bones, and hooves are used to make tools for the group.
We understand that some people feel this is a barbaric act, but we urge you to read the BOSS alumni comments on this process for a better sense of what this phase delivers and means to people. Don't just take our word for it. But as we said at the beginning, this aspect of our program is in line with the core philosophies of our school and even in this modern world of ours – no, especially in this modern world of ours — we stand by the lesson as a critical benefit to our students.